Jan 132012

What to Wear in Thailand: The Ultimate Dress Code Guide

‘What to wear in Thailand’ is answered with 2 quick questions. What’s appropriate in a modest country? And, what clothes suit Thailand’s hot, humid climate? It’s easy! Use our What to Wear guide and Thailand’s dress code won’t be a problem: Find out exactly what to wear at the beach and pool, in Bangkok, at temples, at night and in Thai beach towns. Plus, get tips for ideal fabrics, the best shoes to wear and how to pack for Thailand perfectly.

Thailand’s dress code: What to know

Bar girls and lady-boys aside, Thailand is a modest country. Think a PG-13 corner of Utah on a very hot day. There are no actual rules; Thailand is used to under-dressed foreigners. However, staying ‘more covered than not’ will be appreciated (and you’ll likely enjoy better service). Just choose clothes that hit closer to your knees than anatomy in the opposite direction. Consider this more/less bendy, depending on your destination. Snorkelling on Samui? Don’t worry about it. Browsing Bangkok’s malls? You’re in tropical Manhattan. Hiking with hill tribes? Cover up.

What to wear in Bangkok?

Checking out of a 5-star Bangkok hotel once, one of us (ahem) was wearing a pair of Crocs. After settling the bill, the receptionist, as charming as could be, said her goodbyes: “You’re a very nice man. But you have such ugly shoes.”

Assuming you’re an upstanding citizen with noble intentions, consider Bangkok the shiny metropolitan city that it is (and dress accordingly). Aside from visiting temples and nice bars or restaurants, casual sight-seeing clothes are the norm. This doesn’t include a bathing suit: wear actual real clothes. Want to improve diplomatic relations and enjoy better service in Bangkok? Dress 10% nicer than the tourist fray, as follows…

What should women wear in Bangkok? Rather than baring all your bits, conjure Reese Witherspoon on an August day in Georgia.

What to wear in Thailand? Dress code tips for women in Bangkok

Mosquito Wristbands // Sanuk Flip Flops // Shirt-Dress // Wicking Sun-Dress

At night in Bangkok? While these suggestions are ideal for day-time sight-seeing/shopping in Bangkok, you’ll want to note a different dress code at night for dressier destinations – especially when choosing between shorts or pants/trousers. *Find out what to wear at night in Thailand, for both casual and dressy destinations.

What should men wear in Bangkok? Collared shirts or polos are recommended (instead of T-shirts or – Australia! – singlets) and … apparently not Crocs. Choose loafers or boat shoes over flip-flops or running shoes (really – stand back and watch service levels improve).

What to wear in Thailand: What should men wear in Bangkok?

Linen Shirt // Polo Shirt // Shorts // Sperry Boat Shoes // Backpack

Shoes for Thailand? Good news – you won’t need to pack more than 5 pairs of shoes, tops (probably far fewer!). *Find out what shoes to wear in Thailand no matter what your itinerary includes.

What to wear at the beach?

Bikinis, trunks and typical resort-wear are de facto at the beach and pool on Koh Samui, Phuket and similar (as in any other popular vacation destination). However, note the Thai modesty difference: Unlike other island destinations you should cover up with some shorts and a T-shirt (or similar) when you leave the beach or pool (e.g to have lunch at a beach restaurant).

*The ULTIMATE What Not To Do: How to be the rudest tourist in Thailand

What should women wear at the beach? Stick with natural fabrics for cover-ups and – generally – fairly modest coverage. Always wear your bikini top. Topless sunbathing is a total taboo. No one’s going to lock you up, but it will make locals nearby very uncomfortable. Thai women (bar girls notwithstanding) don’t really ‘do’ cleavage.

What to wear in Thailand? Women's clothing for the beach and pool in Thailand

Seafolly bikini // Cover-up // Sun Hat // Waterproof Phone Case // Havaianas Flip Flops

What should men wear at the beach? Guys have it easy: your T-shirts and standard-issue ‘man shorts’ mean your modesty never need be a problem (just put your shirt back on when you leave the beach). In some spots it might be necessary to wear mosquito repellent, too.

What to wear in Thailand: Men's necessities for the beach and pool

Swim trunks // DEET-free bug spray // Sun Hat // UPF 50+ T-shirts

*Sun safety? Thailand is mere degrees from the equator and its UV rating is off the charts year-round. Even if you “never burn” at home, respect Thailand’s sun. SPF 30 – bare minimum, and always wear a hat! Rash-guard shirts are recommended if you plan to snorkel and/or burn easily.

What to wear at Thai temples?

*Pay particular attention to the dress code for Thai temples as it’s where you’re most likely to cause offence. Most temples with tourist traffic have signs asking visitors to cover up, yet you’ll see many oblivious souls who still manage to miss this final memo.

What’s appropriate clothing for Thai temples? The basic rule is to cover your shoulders and knees (both sexes), and ideally you’d cover your ankles too. On the bottom, wear longer shorts, capris, pants/trousers or a knee-length-or-longer skirt. On top, choose any shirt that fully covers your shoulders. A T-shirt, blouse or polo is fine, while a tank top is not. However, a pashmina or scarf worn around the shoulders over a tank top is acceptable (or used as a makeshift long skirt), so it’s easy to get ‘temple worthy’ quite quickly.

What to wear in Thailand: Temple dress code

Maxi dress // Elephant Scarf // TOMS Canvas Slip-Ons

Shoes for Thai temples: Closed-toe shoes are more appropriate, whether loafers, flats or canvas TOMs. Don’t wear laced shoes, as they’re taken off when visiting Thai temples. Tying and untying shoe laces? No thanks. A slip-on shoe or dressy sandal is ideal.

What to wear in Thai beach towns?

To dress properly in Thailand is no great mystery – just a matter of basic observation and respect. Do Thai men go to the supermarket shirtless and barefoot? No. Do Thai women ride scooters in bikinis? Nope.

What to wear in Thailand: In beach towns like Phuket, Koh Samui, etc

Tank top // Shorts // Dress // Panama Hat // Huarache Sandals

What to wear Thailand's beach towns?

Shorts // Linen Shirt // Lightweight T-shirt // Merrell Flip Flops

It’s just like at home: beach stuff stays on the beach. Other than that – it’s hot, and you’re on vacation! How to stay as comfortable as possible? It’s all in your fabric choice.

What fabric is best in Thailand?

The climate determines what you should wear in Thailand – a fine line between respecting local culture, and not melting to a puddle. Despite Thailand’s typical temperatures – mid 30s (over 90°F) – and high humidity, your fabric choices can win the game. You’re not coming on vacation to play “sweaty bush pig”, are you?

The worst fabric for Thailand? Two things not to wear: (1) Anything lined with polyester. It will melt and so will you. (2) Jeans. Thais can wear jeans thanks to lifetime of heat-acclimation. You? You’ll combust. Instead…

Choose cotton + natural fabrics – the thinner the better! When packing for Thailand, only invite your 100% cotton buddies. Light-weight linen and rayon are equally comfortable (if you’ve asked yourself if you can really pull off white linen pants). If you prefer, thinner silk or silk-cotton also pack lightly and suit cooler days. If you’re packing skirts or dresses, double check that any lining isn’t polyester. If so, leave it behind. In Thailand it’s as good as wearing a Ziplock bag.

Be wary of wicking material used in ‘performance wear’. Yes, it dries quickly, but fabric weight can vary: bring only thinner fabric.

*Note that these rules turn on their heads during Thailand’s rainy season, when you’ll want to choose totally different fabrics to contend with outrageous downpours and humidity. Instead, find out what to wear for rainy season in Thailand.

What to wear – Recap

What to Wear in Thailand: The Ultimate Dress Code Guide

Let’s recap. Generally – go ‘more modest than not’, remember ‘no shoes/no shirt/no service’ (even at the beach) and choose your most lightweight fabrics. Easy!

More specifically:

  1. At night: What to wear?
  2. Shoes: What shoes to wear?
  3. Rainy season: What to wear?
  4. Dressing up: What to wear?
  5. Children: What should kids wear?

Packing for Thailand

With these tips you can easily enjoy total comfort in Thailand’s culture and climate, no matter what you have planned. Now that the dress code is no problem, what about the rest of your perfect preparation?

The Koh Samui Guide: Travel Guide for Koh Samui, Thailand